- Low power
- Buggy garbage collection
- High pricetag
High performing SSD with correspondingly high price.
Solid state drives aren’t a new technology, but in the past couple of years they’ve really captured the imagination of technology enthusiasts. Unlike traditional hard drives, SSDs have no moving parts, significantly faster access times and generally low power requirements. Western Digital, a giant of the hard drive world, has finally entered the fray with their new SiliconEdge Blue SSD. Is the brand name worth the price? Read on and find out.
- Sequential Access – Read: Up to 250MB/s
- Sequential Access – Write: Up to 170MB/s
- Power Consumption (Active): 2.0W (Read), 3.5W (Write)
- Power Consumption (Idle): 0.6W
- Max Shock Resistance: 1000G, Half-sine, 0.5 ms Duration, 50g Pk, MIL-STD-810F, Method 516.5, Procedure I
- Max Vibration Resistance: 16.3gRMS, MIL-STD-810F, Method 514.5, Procedure I, Category 24
- Height: 9.5mm
Western Digital decided to cut the prices of the three drives just after launch, resulting in the 256GB drive running $799.99, the 128GB drive running $449.99 and the 64GB drive running a reasonable $249.99.
I mentioned earlier that solid state drives have managed to win a lot of attention and favor recently, and it’s due almost entirely to the fact that a good SSD can run circles around traditional hard drives. While sustained read and write speeds can be up to 200% or so of the fast hard drives, it’s the sub-millisecond latency that really knocks people over. Applications such as Photoshop, which are known to take several seconds to launch, now pop up almost as soon as you click the icon. Even older or slower systems can benefit from swapping out the hard drive for an SSD; throwing one into a Mac Mini, for example, saw benchmarks rise across the board while average power draw dropped by four watts.
Solid state drives manage the higher speeds and lower latencies in a manner completely alien to how the rotating platters of hard drives work. Instead of using magnetic stripes, flash memory has sets of cells which store bits. You can read a slightly more in-depth explanation in our look at the original OCZ Vertex drive. The upside to this storage method is that these new drives have no moving parts. Desktops that get moved frequently, notebooks that get tossed around and car PCs which suffer from strong vibrations can all see improvements to drive longevity by switching to solid state storage. Additionally, the lower power draws seen in most SSDs can add up noticeably longer run times for portable machines.
Suffice it to say, while good SSDs are faster than the fastest hard drives, they have a number of limiting factors that can bring them back down to earth. Currently, SSDs really can’t match traditional storage in terms of density. Desktop hard drives are pushing two terabytes while the largest mass-produced SSDs sit at 256 gigabytes (there are a few 512GB SSDs and a number of limited specialty products that exceed this designation). More importantly, the cost-per-gigabyte for SSDs is currently significantly higher than the same value for regular hard drives. A 2TB Western Digital Caviar Green drive can be had for as little as $150, while this 256GB SiliconEdge Blue costs $800. In terms of $/GB, that’s a jump of $0.075 to $3.125. Big difference.
Build and Design
Until now, Western Digital unsurprisingly downplayed the notion that they would enter the SSD market anytime soon. When they purchased SiliconSystems early last year, however, the technology world went wild with speculation that WD would finally be bringing a silicon-based high-speed drive to market. For their part WD’s new SSD division carried on business as usual; SiliconSystems was known for supplying flash drives to industrial and embedded solutions, not consumer and enterprise systems. Obviously, that’s all changed.
In terms of looks, the new SiliconEdge Blue drive doesn’t appear very different from other solid state drives, and popping the cover off to look inside doesn’t make the change any more apparent. Those familiar with Western Digital’s previous offerings will recognize at least part of the branding for the SE Blue; WD likes to stratify its desktop and notebook offerings into three different categories, each representing by one of three colors. Caviar (desktop) and Scorpio (notebook) Black drives are the high-performance offerings, designed to offer the fastest data access at higher monetary and power costs. Green drives sacrifice some of that speed and performance in order to minimize power consumption, while Blue drives are the mainstream offerings, designed to maximize value for both consumers and OEMs such as Dell and HP.
Does that therefore mean we’re going to see future offerings from WesternDigital in the other two product categories? When pressed on the issue, the product manager and PR agent remained silent, trotting out the well-known line that they can’t comment on unreleased products. It was done with something of a laugh, however, and you can be all but certain that WD will bring a SiliconEdge Black speed demon to the market at some point; Green is less likely, given the power savings inherent to solid state media, but not off the table.
Once inside the drive, Western Digital played a few tricks to obfuscate some of the part identities, but without doing a lot of work, it’s hard to mask a few certainties. The controller is imprinted with a Western Digitail “Vail” nomenclature, leading one to believe that WD has actually engineered their own flash memory controller. That’s not the case, though, and if you follow the pin-outs on the circuitboard, it would seem that the new chip is actually just a rebadged jMicron microcontroller. jMicron has left something of a bad taste in the mouths of early adopters of SSD technology, who remember the stuttering and freezing of the early, inexpensive drives. That’s largely a thing of the past, however, with the SiliconEdge Blue delivering acceptable performance results.
Also inside, you can see the 64MB ESMT RAM chip that serves as cache for the drive, as well as the (in this case) 256GB of Samsung NAND flash chips. Looking at the part numbers, it seems like there are 16*16GB flash chips, but looking closer, and from the side, it looks like there are actually 32*8. Given that the part numbers actually signify 16GB modules, they’re probably sold pre-configured in pairs.